A sole practitioner has been fined £45,000 after a tribunal found that he promoted his son’s own interests above other clients in a leasehold matter.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found Gopal Gupta, who practised as Gupta Law in west London, acted where there was a conflict of interest in respect of an application for collective enfranchisement.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority had investigated after a complaint from five former clients, who said they were taken advantage of and not provided with a surveyor’s valuation for the property.
The regulator alleged Gupta sought to influence the value of premiums to be apportioned between and paid by his clients, one of who was his son. In effect, it was submitted Gupta was negotiating with his own clients, potentially seeking an outcome less favourable to them than was capable of being secured, in order to get a better financial outcome for his son.
The SRA said Gupta failed to address the issue of potential conflict, and clients were not informed of the relevant issues and risks in his acting for all of them.
Gupta denied misconduct, saying he believed there be no harm to the other clients. Even where there was a short period of conflict, this did not impact on his integrity and cause harm to anyone.
The tribunal found the leaseholder clients did not see a report which would have made them aware of the likely cost of purchasing the freehold.
‘It was crucially important that he provided all of his clients with full information,’ said the tribunal. ‘Not only did [Gupta] fail to keep his clients informed, but he only promoted the interests of his son when making representations as regards the valuation.’
The tribunal found a ‘significant risk’ of a client conflict, and that he had not explained such risks to clients or obtained their consent in writing to proceed.
In mitigation, Gupta said he had practised without any issues for 37 years and had a number of positive testimonials. He was a man of ‘impeccable character who for a few months some four years ago found himself in a conflict situation that he failed to manage properly,’ the tribunal heard.
Gupta was fined £45,000 and ordered to pay £23,500 costs.